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HP looks beyond smartphones and tablets for WebOS

Not dead, yet
Mon Aug 22 2011, 13:58

FLOGGER OF EXPENSIVE PRINTER INK HP has said that WebOS is not dead following its decision to stop making hardware for it.

Last week HP dropped a bombshell by announcing it was not only leaving the PC business but that it was going to stop making WebOS devices, leaving Touchpad and Veer users high and dry. Now Stephen DeWitt, SVP at HP told Bloomberg in an interview, "The WebOS is not dead. ... We're going to continue to evolve it, update and support it. We stand by it."

DeWitt continued by going on the offensive saying, "The whole world isn't just about tablets and phones." DeWitt's comments add to a growing suspicion that HP will license WebOS to device manufacturers for use in a wide range of products ranging from smartphones and tablets to automotive, home and healthcare devices.

Leo Apotheker, HP's CEO, said that he wanted to position the firm as a software vendor and licensing out WebOS would certainly do that. Given HP's lousy track record with smartphones and tablets, perhaps Apotheker realised that selling licences would be more profitable and less painful than flogging devices.

Bloomberg claims that should HP want to offload it's Palm division then the patents it acquired when it purchased Palm could be worth more now than back when HP bought the company. In the past year patent portfolios have become the weapon of choice for smartphone and tablet manufacturers.

Palm might have been a shadow of its former self when HP bought it but the firm was an innovator in what at the time was called the personal digital assistant (PDA) market. The Palmpilot PDA set the tone for the devices of the future and you can bet that some of the patents HP now holds could be mighty useful in the patent wars between Apple, Google, HTC, Microsoft, Motorola and Oracle.

Judging by DeWitt's comments, there are three ways HP could go with WebOS. License the operating system to other device makers, try to collect royalties from Palm's patent portfolio or wash its hands of the whole thing and sell off Palm.

At present the first two alternatives look the most likely. µ


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